Currently, 43 of the 50 U.S. states have so-called "dram shop laws" that make it possible to hold an establishment liable if it sells an intoxicated patron alcohol and the patron subsequently causes a car accident after they leave the premises. A "dram" is an old measure for liquor by the drink.
What got me thinking of this was learning of the conviction of drunk driver for causing a fatal DWI wreck. In 2010, a 26-year-old visited four different bars in Asheville, North Carolina (NC). After her last stop, the intoxicated woman drove west in the eastbound lanes of I-240 and crashed head-on with another car, killing the other driver. The drunk driver eventually pleaded guilty to reckless driving, felony death by vehicle and driving while intoxicated and is serving time.
North Carolina (NC) has a dram shop law that makes it illegal for establishments to sell alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated. Violators can be held liable if a patron causes personal injury or death after drinking. The estate of the Asheville victim has filed wrongful death lawsuits against the four bars that served her alcohol. Because the driver’s blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit at the time of the accident, it is hard to believe that the woman showed no outward signs of being intoxicated while she was at the bars.
Virginia (VA) is one of the seven states that do not have dram shop laws. Should one be enacted? According to data collected by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, holding establishments liable in drunk driving accidents has had a positive effect on reducing the number of fatal crashes. Studies have shown decreases in fatal car crashes of between 3 and 5 percent in states that enforce dram shop laws. This may not seem like a large percentage, but if your loved one was part of the group who has been saved, wouldn’t it be worth it?
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.